North Dakota man must stand trial in three daughters' deaths

A North Dakota construction worker must stand trial in the deaths of his three young daughters, a Wisconsin judge ruled Tuesday after hearing how the girl's terrified mother called police and an investigator found the children tucked in bed with their faces covered in dried blood.

St. Croix County Circuit Judge Scott Needham said prosecutors presented enough evidence during a preliminary hearing to persuade him Aaron Schaffhausen probably killed all three girls. Faced with three bodies and an alleged confession, Schaffhausen's attorney didn't call a single witness.

Schaffhausen is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. He faces three mandatory life sentences if he's convicted.

According to court documents, Schaffhausen, 34, and his wife, Jessica Schaffhausen, divorced in January. He lived in Minot while the couple's three daughters, 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia, lived with their mother in a house they rented from her ex-husband in River Falls, a city of 15,000 about 30 miles east of the Twin Cities.

Aaron Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife on July 10 and asked for permission for an unplanned visit with the girls. The mother was out but agreed to the visit. He showed up at the house that afternoon and the girls' babysitter left.

He called his ex-wife two hours later and said he had killed the children. An hour later, he turned himself in.

Ailene Splittgerber, who answers the phones at the River Falls Police Department, testified she took a call from Jessica Schaffhausen that afternoon. The mother was on her way back from Ramsey County, Minn., and was in tears, Splittgarber said.

She told Splittgarber her ex-husband had called her and said she could come home because he had killed the girls. Splittgarber said Jessica Schaffhausen was "hysterical, hyperventilating, very much in distress" and she had to tell her to slow down because she didn't understand her.

Speaking in short, clipped answers, River Falls Police Investigator John Wilson described how he entered the house with a paramedic and discovered each girl in their beds, covers pulled up to their necks, their eyes open and lifeless and what appeared to be dried blood on their mouths and cheeks. The walls of one bedroom were splattered with blood and the carpet was covered with a large pool of blood, he said.

Autopsies revealed what Wilson called "gaping" wounds across the girls' necks. Wilson also testified he noticed what appeared to be blood on Aaron Schaffhausen's shorts, adding Schaffhausen refused to speak with detectives.

Jessica Schaffhausen did not testify Tuesday.

"I think that's more than enough to show a felony was committed by (Schaffhausen)," Assistant State Attorney General Gary Freyberg told the judge.

Schaffhausen's attorney, public defender John Kucinski, tried to raise doubts about whether River Falls Police were operating out of their jurisdiction, questioning whether the house lies in St. Croix or Pierce counties. Freyberg assured the judge the house is in St. Croix County.

Kucinski managed to get Wilson to say he didn't know if police had recovered any weapons, but he called no witnesses and declined to make a concluding argument as to why his client should be released. He said he'd review the hearing transcript and file something later.

Schaffhausen remains jailed on a $2 million cash bond. He's due back in court on Aug. 28 to enter a plea.